The bride walking into Janell Berte’s bridal boutique today is not the same bride from 20-odd years ago.
She’s not clutching four bridal magazines, the pages dog-eared to help her describe the silhouette she wants.
She’s not bringing in the antique ivory dress that’s been handed down for generations, asking for a few alterations to recreate the elegance it provided her grandmother.
The fitting is no longer a moment shared only between mother and daughter.
Though the act of saying yes to the dress remains a time-honored ritual, the wedding shop business is not immune to the changes upending other sectors of retail. Social media, a shift in traditions, economic factors and technology have drastically altered the trip-down-the-gown aisle.
“This is a totally different generation of young people who are coming in now,” said Berté, designer and owner of Posh Bridal Shop in Lancaster.
Creating a Pinterest-perfect day
Changes in the bridal industry can be traced back to the very beginning of the big event: The planning.
When Berté entered the business in the early 1990s, there were four major bridal magazines, she said — Brides, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Bridal Guide. Later Martha Stewart came into the fray, too. The glossy catalogs were like Bibles, and women would mark the pages to relay their visions.
“Girls don’t have to do that anymore,” Berté said. “They bring in their phone and they have it on Pinterest.”
The idea-sharing application enables users to plot out every detail of their wedding. A simple search for wedding dresses yields thousands of results.
Wedding-planning websites like The Knot and Wedding Wire have a foothold in the market, too, Berté said, but Pinterest has become an integral part of the business.
“Pinterest has been a huge factor, both good and bad,” said Taylor Eisenberger, owner of Taylored for You bridal boutique in Mechanicsburg. “People come in with pictures they see on there wanting to know if we have that exact dress to try on. It is good, but if we don’t have it, then it’s kind of like, ‘Well why not?’”
It gives false hope in a way, Eisenberger said, and not every wedding dress on Pinterest has a price tag on it. A bride might come into the store asking for something similar to a $10,000 dress and not even realize it.
From just mom to the whole squad
The visit to the bridal shop also is much different than it was a few decades ago.
“It used to be the mother and the daughter that would come shopping together, or the sisters,” Berté said. “Very rarely would they come in with friends. Now it’s all about friends. It’s a squad of people.”
Part of that change is due to reality television shows, Berté said, such as “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Four Weddings.” After binge-watching a few series, the bride might be influenced on how to behave or what to do during her appointment, such as toting along a crew of people for input.
Additionally, many brides aren’t living near their hometowns. And the whole gang can’t attend the fitting … at least physically.
Brides today can patch in friends and family using video tools such as Facetime, Skype and Facebook Live, Berte said, comparing it to an episode of “The Jetsons.”
At the register
The act of buying a dress has changed with the times, too.
Berté dresses about 150 brides a year. On average, only one bride brings in a family heirloom gown to be tailored, she said.
Brides buying new gowns these days aren’t as concerned about gifting it to their daughters someday, and the quality isn’t as important because they’re only wearing it for one day, Berté explained. After it has served its purpose, the dress often winds up on eBay or other resale sites online.
The internet overall has changed how brides are buying dresses.
Jill Brown, owner of Cocoa Couture in Hershey, said she sometimes has customers who find a dress they want, be it for a wedding or prom, and leave without buying, with the hope that they’ll find it online at a lower price point.
“The internet has, like it’s done to everything else, put a damper on business, and I do think over time there won’t be any small boutiques or bridal shops anymore,” she said. “I think people will have to buy online down the road.” To counter that issue, Brown tries to stock lines that do not sell online.
Brides are also rethinking how they want to spend their wedding budget. Instead of parents footing the bill, couples are paying for a lot of the wedding themselves, Berté said. Brides don’t always want to spend upwards of $3,000 for a dress they will only wear once, especially when that money can go toward other extravagant touches.
“The money is being distributed very differently now than what it was before,” Berté said. “Brides are seeing these big celebrity weddings and weddings on Pinterest, and they want to have that wow factor when they walk in. And the gown isn’t the wow factor anymore.”
When asked what’s key in sustaining the wedding shop business, all three women came back to the same topic: customer service.
“I think we’ll always need bridal shops, but there’s definitely not as many as there once was,” Eisenberger said. “(Brides) do research online, but there’s nothing like coming in person to physically try on dresses, having someone to assist you and being pampered for that day. I don’t think anything beats tried-and-true customer service. The internet can’t compete with that.”
Berté described it as a high-touch industry, something that’s a bit foreign to young brides who are accustomed to more independent shopping experiences. She and her employees strive to offer a relaxed, calm atmosphere, offering amenities like homemade sangria and a “Poshtini.”
“I always tell my staff, no matter what, make the customer happy,” said Brown. “Hopefully it still wins out some of the people.”